Avoidant Attachment Style: What It Is, Causes + Prevention

Do you or someone you love struggle with intimacy in relationships? Do you feel more comfortable relying only on yourself rather than opening up to others? If so, you may have an avoidant attachment style.

Let’s back up a minute – what does attachment style even mean? According to attachment theory, the bonds we form with our caregivers as infants shape our expectations and behaviours in relationships as adults.

If your parents were emotionally unavailable or inconsistent in meeting your needs, you likely learned to be self-sufficient and dismiss your feelings as a child. This survival mechanism continues into adulthood, causing you to avoid emotional intimacy and vulnerability.

The result? An avoidant attachment style that makes it challenging to have fulfilling, trusting relationships.

  • Common behaviours include distancing yourself from others, refusing help or support, and suppressing emotions.
  • Impacts range from loneliness and isolation to anxiety and low self-esteem.

The good news is attachment style can change, even in adulthood. With professional help and a commitment to healing, you can overcome avoidant patterns and build secure, nourishing connections.

This guide will explore:

  • Causes like emotionally absent parenting
  • Signs and impacts across relationships
  • Proven paths to healing like therapy and self-work
A man who has fearful a- avoidant attachment style, looking away from his partner and avoiding eye contact

What is Attachment Theory, and How Does it Lead to Avoidant Attachment?

To understand avoidant attachment, we first need to look at attachment theory – one of the most important concepts in psychology for understanding human relationships.

Originally proposed in the 1950s by psychiatrist John Bowlby, attachment theory says that the emotional bonds we form with our main caregivers as infants and toddlers shape our expectations and behaviours in close relationships later in life.

Attachment StyleComfort with IntimacyView of SelfView of Others
Secure AttachmentComfortable with intimacy and close relationshipsPositive self-imageA positive view of others
Avoidant AttachmentAvoid intimacy; self-reliantPositive self-imageDistrusting of others’ intentions
Anxious AttachmentPreoccupied with relationships, needyNegative self-imageA positive view of others
Fearful AttachmentFearful of intimacy; socially avoidantNegative self-imageDistrusting of others’ intentions

The Role of Early Caregiving

During infancy, we rely entirely on our caregivers to meet our needs for food, comfort, affection, and safety. Based on how our caregivers respond to our needs, we develop an attachment style that persists into adulthood.

  • Secure attachment develops when caregivers consistently meet the child’s needs in a warm, nurturing way. This makes the child feel safe to express emotions openly and explore the world, knowing their caregiver is a source of safety and comfort.
  • Insecure attachment develops when caregivers are inconsistent, rejecting, or emotionally unavailable. The child adapts by avoiding emotional needs and becoming self-sufficient.

There are a few types of insecure attachment. Avoidant attachment specifically arises when caregivers regularly:

  • Ignore or dismiss the child’s needs
  • Provide care physically but are emotionally distant
  • Discourage emotional displays and vulnerability

As a result, the child learns not to rely on others for affection or support. This early emotional neglect stays with them, making it hard to trust and intimately connect as adults.

Why It Persists into Adulthood

Our internal working model – the mental framework of how relationships function – forms in infancy based on early caregiving experiences. This model unconsciously guides our expectations and behaviours in relationships even decades later.

For instance, if your working model says, “I can’t rely on others for emotional support,” you will continue behaving self-reliantly and keeping people at arm’s length – hallmark behaviours of avoidant attachment.

The good news is attachment style isn’t necessarily fixed. With insight and effort, we can challenge our engrained working models. More on that later!

Signs, Behaviours and Impact of Avoidant Attachment

Avoidant attachment doesn’t necessarily mean someone is cold or unemotional. Many avoidantly attached people come across as charming, outgoing, and independent.

It’s only in emotionally intimate relationships that avoidance behaviours emerge. Let’s look at some common signs:

Emotional Distancing

People with avoidant attachment maintain distance from others. They aren’t comfortable relying on or opening up to romantic partners, friends, or family.

  • They may rebuff gestures of intimacy like hugs or sharing deep feelings.
  • They are unlikely to seek support when stressed, grieving a loss, or coping with trauma.
  • They focus more on practical things in relationships rather than emotional connection.

Suppressing Emotional Needs

Avoidant individuals often deny their own emotional needs. They:

  • View emotions as a weakness
  • Are uneasy expressing vulnerability, sadness, hurt, or anger
  • Are dismissive when others express emotions (“you’re overreacting”)

Discomfort with Intimacy

Intimacy – physical, emotional, intellectual – provokes anxiety for the avoidantly attached.

  • They avoid prolonged eye contact, physical closeness, and deep conversation.
  • Talk of commitment or “where is this relationship going?” is met with distancing.
  • Flirting, humour, and surface-level relating are more comfortable.

Maintaining Independence

Avoidant people prize their self-reliance above leaning on others.

  • They take pride in handling problems themselves.
  • They may resent when others try to support or take care of them.
  • Relying on someone else makes them feel inadequate.

Other Common Behaviours

  • Idolizing self-sufficiency and freedom in relationships
  • Accusing partners of being “too needy” or demanding
  • Fluctuating between distance and pursuit ( Mixed signals)
  • Reluctance to share personal info, thoughts, feelings
  • Focusing more on work, hobbies, pets vs. relationships

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Impacts on Relationships

What happens when one partner has an avoidant attachment style?

  • Their lack of emotional availability can make the other partner feel lonely, rejected, and unvalued.
  • Arguments frequently arise about emotional needs not being met.
  • The avoidant partner feels pressured to open up and connect more than they can.
  • Relationships stall at a superficial level and lack depth.

Over time, these dynamics undermine intimacy and trust, often leading to breakups.

Other Impacts of Avoidant Attachment

Beyond romantic relationships, avoidant attachment can also:

  • Cause friendships to lack depth and meaning
  • Impair professional networking and mentor relationships
  • Perpetuate feelings of isolation and disconnection
  • Manifest as low self-esteem and problems with identity
  • Correlate with anxiety, depression, and substance misuse

The good news? Attachment style isn’t fixed – it is possible to cultivate healthier, secure attachments.

Causes and Risk Factors for Developing Avoidant Attachment

Why do some people develop an avoidant attachment style while others develop secure bonds? There are a few key factors that can contribute.

Emotionally Unavailable Parenting

The most direct cause of avoidant attachment is having emotionally unavailable parents or primary caregivers. This parenting style involves:

  • Ignoring or dismissing children’s emotional needs
  • Maintaining physical care but lacking emotional nurturing
  • Discouraging emotional expression and vulnerability
  • Over-emphasizing independence and self-reliance

If parents don’t model emotional intimacy and support, children learn they can’t rely on others – the crux of avoidant attachment.

Trauma or Loss of Caregivers

Events like parental divorce, illness, or death – especially early childhood – can also contribute to avoidant attachment.

  • The child experiences the loss of emotional availability and care without understanding why.
  • This can lead to mistrust of relying on others who may “abandon” them.

Physical or Emotional Abuse

Abusive, violent, or neglectful treatment from caregivers can understandably cause children to avoid emotional connections and vulnerability with others in the future.


Children adopted later than infancy (or who change homes often) are more likely to develop attachment issues.

  • Breaks in continuity of care disrupt the bonding process.
  • The child may not see caregivers as sources of safety.

Mental Illness in Parents

If primary caregivers have untreated mental illnesses like depression or personality disorders, they may struggle to connect emotionally with infants.


While the environment is the primary influence, some studies suggest genetic factors may predispose children to avoidant attachment by making them more sensitive to neglect.

The good news is awareness of these causes allows consciously shifting attachment patterns through re-parenting, therapy, and mindful relationship building.

Paths to Healing Avoidant Attachment

The good news is that attachment style can change even in adulthood. It requires insight into your patterns and a commitment to showing up differently in relationships.

While it isn’t easy, healing avoidant attachment is possible through strategies like:

  • Professional counselling by a Certified Therapists
  • Self-guided learning and exercises
  • Practicing new relational skills
  • Processing childhood wounds
  • Fostering securely attached relationships

Seeking Therapy and Counselling

Working with a skilled therapist near you is ideal for unpacking avoidant attachment. The therapeutic relationship itself offers corrective emotional experiences.

  • A caring, attuned therapist models receiving emotional support.
  • You can explore past hurts and receiving needs unmet by parents.
  • Talk therapy builds the capacity for emotional intimacy and vulnerability.

Look for therapists with experience in:

  • Attachment theory – the conceptual basis.
  • Relationships issues – working with couples is a plus.
  • Trauma, grief – relevant to attachment wounds.
  • Psychodynamic therapy – accesses the unconscious/subconscious.

Trying Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)

EFT for couples, created by Dr. Susan Johnson, is a powerful approach combining attachment theory and experiential therapies.

Key aspects include:

  • Recognizing negative patterns shaped by attachment style
  • Accessing unmet emotional needs and childhood wounds
  • Facilitating corrective emotional experiences with partner
  • Fostering secure bonds through positive interactions

For avoidant attachment, EFT helps overcome defences like minimizing feelings and distancing from a partner.

Exploring Attachment-Focused Psychotherapy

Individual psychotherapy can also help avoidant individuals through:

  • Increasing emotional awareness and vocabulary
  • Examining past relationships hurts
  • Imaginal conversations with unavailable parents
  • Authentic relating practice with a therapist
  • Learning to tolerate and regulate attachment feelings

Trying Self-Guided Exercises and Education

While less powerful than professional help, self-guided strategies can also help shift attachment patterns:

  • Read books like Attached to gain self-insight
  • Work through attachment-focused workbooks and journaling prompts
  • Listen to related podcasts and seminars
  • Join online communities to share struggles and solutions
  • Practice identifying, expressing, and meeting emotional needs

Developing Emotional Availability and Attunement

Creating lasting change requires practicing new relating habits, especially:

  • Emotional attunement – listening empathically, naming feelings
  • Self-disclosing – opening up bit-by-bit
  • Responding sensitively – meeting others’ need for reassurance
  • Allowing dependence – receiving and requesting support

These skills build emotional muscle memory in relationships.

Fostering Secure Attachment Relationships

Seek out and nurture relationships with securely attached friends and partners. Their positive example can gradually reshape your expectations.

Notice how they:

  • Comfortably share feelings and seek closeness
  • Provide reassurance and support
  • Don’t take distancing personally
  • Are available without being demanding

Healing the Inner Child

Our adult attachment system is like an internalized parent-child relationship. To change it, we must provide what our parents couldn’t.

Strategies like inner child work include:

  • Writing letters of understanding to yourself as a vulnerable child
  • Imagining your adult self comforting your inner child
  • Meeting unmet childhood needs – play, nurturing touch, validation

Being Patient with Yourself

Remember, change is gradual. Old defences remain to keep you safe. With compassion for yourself and others, new relating habits will slowly emerge.

StrategyHow It Helps
Seeking therapyWorks with therapist on emotional intimacy skills and resolving past relational wounds
Emotionally focused therapy (EFT)Addresses negative attachment patterns; fosters corrective emotional experiences with a partner.
Attachment-focused psychotherapyIncreases emotional awareness; processes unmet childhood needs; practices vulnerability.
Self-guided educationBooks, workbooks, and podcasts offer attachment insight and skills training.
Developing emotional attunementListening empathically, disclosing feelings, responding sensitively, allowing dependence
Fostering secure relationshipsSecure friends model positive attachment; gradually reshape expectations
Inner child workWriting to and imagining nurturing your inner child, meeting unmet childhood needs.
Being patientChange is gradual; old defences remain—compassion for yourself and others.

What's Your Attachment Style? Take This Quiz to Find Out

Want to understand your attachment style better? Take this quick quiz to gain insight:

1. I’m comfortable relying on others for emotional support:

  • Always
  • Sometimes
  • Rarely

2. I get anxious when partners want more closeness and intimacy:

  • Often
  • Occasionally
  • Not really

3. I open up quickly and share my feelings with loved ones:

  • Yes
  • Somewhat
  • No

4. I worry partners don’t care about me:

  • Frequently
  • Sometimes
  • Not at all

5. I prefer casual dating to committed relationships:

  • True
  • In between
  • False


Mostly A’s – You likely have a secure attachment style. You value intimacy, communicate openly, and feel comfortable relying on partners.

Mostly B’s – You may have an avoidant attachment style. You limit intimacy, are self-reliant, and feel constrained by too much closeness.

Mostly C’s – You may have an anxious attachment style. You worry about relationships, require constant reassurance, and fear losing partners.

This quick quiz gives you a general idea, but take an empirically validated attachment style test for a formal assessment. Learning your style allows you to find pathways to create secure, fulfilling relationships.

Strategies for Partners of Avoidant Attached Individuals

Having a partner with an avoidant attachment style can be frustrating. Their distancing and lack of intimacy leave you feeling unloved and unwanted. Here are some strategies to improve the relationship:

Don't Take it Personally

Remember, their avoidance comes from past wounds and ingrained defence mechanisms. As hard as it is, try not to take their distancing personally.

  • It’s not a reflection of your worth or lovability.
  • Their emotional walls probably existed before you met.

Speak Up for Your Needs (Gently)

Let your partner know in a non-blaming way how their avoidance makes you feel. Highlight specific behaviours like:

  • “When you dismiss my feelings, I feel unheard and uncared for.”
  • “I miss emotional intimacy – sharing thoughts and being physically close.”

Emphasize you want to understand their experiences too.

Suggest Couples Counselling

Therapy like Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) can facilitate healthy attachment between you.

  • A therapist helps your partner identify and open up childhood wounds.
  • The therapist also coaches you both in creating attuned, responsive interactions.

If your partner refuses to go, seek individual counselling to process feelings and strategize.

Start Small in Building Intimacy

Look for minor opportunities to build connections that feel safe for your partner:

  • Make eye contact when talking and listening.
  • Share more minor emotions and daily experiences.
  • Briefly discuss relationship issues without criticism.
  • Try non-sexual physical intimacy like hugging, hand-holding, and grooming.

Praise Small Steps of Openness

Reinforce when your partner makes even a slight move toward vulnerability.

  • “Thanks for telling me you had a bad day at work.”
  • “I appreciate you initiating a hug earlier – simple things like that mean a lot.”

This positive feedback highlights they are capable of secure attachment.

Manage Your Attachment System

Make sure your behaviours aren’t triggering more avoidance. Be mindful of:

  • Needy, smothering interactions
  • Outbursts of anger or blame
  • Excessive reassurance seeking
  • Ultimatums about leaving

Strive for calm, consistent emotional availability. Your partner will likely respond better to that over time.

Accept Some Distance

Respecting their need for autonomy isn’t a rejection of the relationship. Let them know you understand their desire for independence.

Avoidant Attachment in the Workplace

Attachment styles don’t just influence personal relationships – they shape our professional interactions, too. Here’s how avoidant attachment can show up at work:

Preference for Independent Work

Avoidantly attached employees often:

  • Choose solo projects over collaborations
  • Decline offers to brainstorm or problem-solve together
  • Work remotely to limit office interactions

They believe they produce better work independently.

Resistance to Mentorship

Forms of mentorship like coaching, shadowing, advice-seeking, or casual check-ins are uncomfortable for avoidant employees.

They may:

  • Insist they don’t need guidance
  • Ignore suggestions from mentors
  • Refuse to share work challenges or victories

Reluctance to Delegate

Delegation requires depending on others and relinquishing control – difficult for those with avoidance.

They may:

  • Complete tasks alone rather than assign them
  • Micromanage teammates when delegating
  • Express distrust in others’ competence

Challenges Networking and Building Rapport

Avoidant attachment manifests as:

  • Undervaluing small talk
  • Difficulty opening up personally with colleagues
  • Rushing through empathetic listening

This impedes the development of workplace relationships and social capital.

Strategies for Improvement

Some tips for avoidant employees include:

  • Practicing brief daily check-ins with coworkers
  • Identifying one low-risk area to collaborate or receive mentoring
  • Making delegation a work goal and tracking progress
  • Scheduling informal social time with colleagues

With self-awareness and commitment to building workplace connections, avoidant individuals can adapt their attachment style to thrive professionally.

In Summary

Avoidant attachment is a typical relationship pattern stemming from childhood emotional neglect. While deeply ingrained, attachment style can shift – even in adulthood.

The keys are self-awareness, professional support, and practicing new relating habits. To build secure, fulfilling bonds, you can overcome avoidance behaviours with commitment and compassion.

This journey takes courage and vulnerability. Our licensed therapists provide judgement-free support for developing secure attachments at Well Beings Counselling.

Through counselling services, including:

We help clients heal attachment wounds, gain relationship skills, and stop past hurts from dictating their future.

If avoidant attachment limits relationships and well-being, know that transformation is possible. Reach out today to start the healing process with our collaborative care.

With insight and effort, you can rewrite engrained attachment patterns and build your desired emotionally connected life. The first step is seeking help – we’re here to walk this path with you.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Anxious attachment involves fear of abandonment, requiring constant reassurance, and worrying about relationships.

Avoidant attachment involves discomfort with emotional intimacy, excessive independence, and distancing from others.

Secure attachment involves comfortably relying on others, communicating openly, and trusting in relationships.

A research-validated attachment-style quiz or test is the best way to find out. Tests like the ECR-RS provide scores on attachment anxiety and avoidance. Generally, the higher your avoidance score, the more avoidant tendencies you have.

Untreated avoidant attachment can lead to increasing loneliness, isolation, and difficulty forming lasting relationships over one's lifetime. It is linked to increased risks of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

Yes, research shows children whose parents have avoidant attachments are more likely to develop avoidant attachments themselves through learned behaviours. Breaking this intergenerational cycle requires awareness and intentional relating.

No, avoidant attachment style is not considered a mental disorder. It is a relationship dynamic shaped by early life experiences. However, it exists on a spectrum - in its more extreme forms, it may require clinical support.

Strategies like communicating needs gently, trying couples counselling, identifying small opportunities for intimacy, praising progress, and accepting some autonomy can improve connections.

Individual counselling can help identify root causes and teach coping skills. Family therapy improves relationship dynamics underlying anger. Anger management classes provide practical tools. Medication may be prescribed if a condition like depression is contributing.

Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen’s career began in Behaviour Therapy, this is where she developed a passion for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches. Following a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology she pursued a Master of Counselling. Pareen is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. She specializes in CBT and Lifespan Integrations approaches to anxiety and trauma. She has been published on major online publications such as - Yahoo, MSN, AskMen, PsychCentral, Best Life Online, and more.

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